23 February 2016

Suzy Prim

Suzy Prim (1895-1991) was an acclaimed French actress, both on stage and on screen. As a young girl she already appeared as La petite Arduini in short silent films by Louis Feuillade. The height of her popularity was in the 1930s. Prim also produced films and wrote scripts.

Suzy Prim
French postcard by Editions en Publications Cinematographiques (EPC), no. 160. Photo: ACE.

Suzy Prim
French postcard by Edit. Chantal, Paris, no. 527. Photo: D.U.C.

Child Actor

Suzy Prim was born as Suzanne Mariette Arduini in Paris in 1895. She was the daughter of Gaston Arduini, an artist who belonged to an Italian family of actors and pantomime players who had established themselves in France in the 17th century.

Suzanne played on stage from a very early age on. She visited the Théàtre de l’Oeuvre by Aurélien Lugné-Poë, where she developped artistically. She would dedicate most of her life to the theatre and proved to be one of the best French female performers, often reciting next to Sacha Guitry and Jules Berry. With Berry she also shared her life for a while.

At a young age Prim was discovered by pioneer film director Louis Feuillade who directed her in the silent short Petits poèmes antiques/Little Antic Poems (Louis Feuillade, 1910). She became the ‘girl-actress’ in many of his films for Gaumont. Under the name of La petite Arduini, she was paired with that other child actor René Dary in such films as Le petit poucet/Tom Thumb (Louis Feuillade, 1912).

In 1914 she played in the Italian-Spanish coproduction Carmen (Giovanni Doria, Augusto Turqui, 1914), produced by Cines. This resulted in performances in various Italian films in 1914 and 1915: Madame Coralie & Cie/Coralie & C.ie (1914) starring Lea Giunchi, La beffa atroce (Carmine Gallone, 1915) with Soava Gallone, and Papà (Nino Oxilia, 1915) with Pina Menichelli.

Back in France, Prim did a whole series of films with director Georges-André Lacroix and when he moved to Italy to film, she followed him there, playing in titles like Appassionatamente/Passionately (Georges-André Lacroix, 1919) and Il suo destino/His Destiny (Georges-André Lacroix, 1921). In 1922 she played opposite Cyprian Gilles in L’aiglonne/The Eagle, a serial of 12 episodes, directed by René Navarre and Emile Keppens. After that Prim abandoned cinema, and focused on her stage career.

Suzy Prim
French postcard by Collection Chantal, Paris, no. 527. Photo: Distributeurs Français.

Suzy Prim
French postcard, no. 669. Photo: Film Sonor.

Vengeful Empress

Suzy Prim’s film career took a new turn when sound arrived. Prim became a leading lady of the French cinema, first in films with Jules Berry in the lead such as Mon coeur et ses millions/My Love and His Millions (André Berthomieu, 1931). Between 1935 and 1940 Prim played in some 30 films, ranging from comedy such as the Fernandel vehicle Un de la légion/One of the Legion (Christian Jaque, 1936) to drama, as the Stefan Zweig adaptation La peur/The Fright (Victor Tourjansky, 1936).

Roles of particular importance were the matchmaking countess in Mayerling (Anatole Litvak, 1935) who couples crownprince Rudolph (Charles Boyer) and young baroness Marie Vetsera (Danielle Darrieux), and Vassilissa, the woman whom Pepel (Jean Gabin) rejects in Jean Renoir’s adaptation of Maxim Gorki: Les bas-fonds/The Lower Depths (Jean Renoir, 1936).

Also memorable is Prim as Madame Tabasco, the star who falls for a pennyless gentleman in Alexis, gentleman chauffeur (Max de Vaucorbeil, 1938), and the vengeful empress Catherine II in the Italian film La principessa Tarakanova/Betrayal (Fedor Ozep, Mario Soldati, 1938), starring Annie Vernay as the fake heir to the Russian throne.

During the war Prim was active in comedies, a.o. with Raimu and Fernandel, but also played in dramas like the Emile Zola adaptation Au bonheur des dames/Shop Girls of Paris (André Cayatte, 1943) with Michel Simon, and the Honoré de Balzac adaptation La Rabouilleuse/The Black Sheep (Fernand Rivers, 1944) in which she played the title role.

In the postwar era Prim played in some fifteen other films, such as Au revoir M. Grock (Pierre Billon, 1949) with the famous Swiss clown Grock, and Au royaume des cieux (Julien Duvivier, 1949) with Serge Reggiani. From 1957 on Prim also produced films such as Douze heures d’horloge (Geza von Radvanyi, 1957) in which she also played, opposite Lino Ventura and Laurent Terzieff.

In the 1960s she appeared on television and wrote scripts for Pierre Bourdon, Jean Dréville and Jacques Derain, using her original name of Suzanne Arduini. Suzy Prim’s last screen performance was in Le corps de mon ennemi (Henri Verneuil, 1976) with Jean-Paul Belmondo.

At the very high age of 96, she died in Boulogne Billancourt (near Paris) in 1991. Suzy Prim lies buried at the cemetery of Belleville in Paris.

Suzy Prim
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 1066. Photo: Manuel Frères. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Suzy Prim
Belgian postcard by Photo Editions, no. 156. Photo: Studio Cayet. Jo Cayet (1907-1987) was a famous Brussels based photographer.

Sources: CineArtistes (French), Wikipedia (French and Italian), and IMDb.

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